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Produce More College-Ready Graduates

Photo: Tom Chalkley, License: N/A

Tom Chalkley

After decades of bad news about Baltimore City’s public schools, promising signs have emerged over the past several years, with credit given to former CEO Andres Alonso, who resigned this year after serving since 2007. Fewer students have been dropping out, and more have been earning diplomas—with the obvious result that graduation rates have been rising quickly. On the flip side, though, a declining proportion of these graduates are immediately enrolling in four-year colleges—a trend unearthed in a Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) report issued this year.

The report noted that “graduation rates increase as struggling students are given extra support to help them meet missing diploma requirements,” but added that “such struggling students are generally less likely to enroll in college, or even be interested in continuing in school,” so rising graduation rates “may reduce college enrollment rates by increasing the overall number eligible for college and changing the composition of a graduating class.”

Interim CEO Tisha Edwards has spoken starkly about these twin trends, telling The Baltimore Sun that “I think we’re going to continue to show an upswing in the number of kids that are graduating, that’s a part of what we do now.” But she added an important caveat: “If you graduate from high school and you cannot count money, you can’t write an essay, you’re taking remedial courses, that’s not what we should be doing. I’m glad I have more kids graduating, but I need kids graduating from high school who are prepared for the world. And we’re not there yet. That’s the next level.”

Here’s the data: a 14-percent increase in graduation rates, from 60.1 percent in 2007 to 74 percent in 2012, and a nearly 5-percent drop in rates of graduates immediately enrolling in college, from 48.9 percent in 2007 to 44.3 percent in 2012.

A high school diploma is meant as a marker that its recipient is prepared for the next steps in life, be it higher education or whatever else will be necessary for earning a living as an adult. Baltimore’s public schools system, after marked and widely publicized gains in educational achievement, is poised to do better on this front. Since BERC’s report indicates efforts to monitor the situation will be ongoing, let’s set some goals for the Class of 2014: three out of four ninth-graders go on to earn diplomas, and half of those who do head straight to college. Meeting or beating these thresholds would be cause for celebration and a good indicator that the system’s actually working, rather than just producing good numbers.

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